Rudyard Kipling

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In "The Way Through the Woods", why was the path closed?

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In Rudyard Kipling’s “The Way Through the Woods," we read about an old road that was shut down some seventy years before the time of narration of the poem. After the road was shut down, trees were planted on the place where it previously existed, so that now the road is hidden out of sight by the “coppice and heath”, and anemones. In fact, space once taken up by the road is now the playing ground of badgers and the brooding site of ring doves. The poem mentions the Keeper, as the only person who knows about the previous existence of a road through the woods.

The second part of the poem states that on any late summer evening, one can hear “the beat of a horse’s feet”, and “the swish of a skirt in the dew” in parts of the woods. Note that the narrator talks about “hearing” rather than “seeing”. The narrator’s words suggest that people in the woods sometimes hear the sounds made by a female traveler and her horse. The unknown traveler appears to know her way through the old road, even though it is long closed and lost to the wild forest cover. The traveler is presented as a ghostly figure that cannot be seen, only heard. This reinforces the idea that perhaps she really is a ghost. The old road could have been closed down as a result of a scary incident, for instance, a death, which took place those many years ago. The lone traveler who continues to haunt the woods could have met a ghastly death on the old road, necessitating its closure.

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In 'The Way Through The Woods' by Rudyard Kipling the poet describes the secret world  of nature that now exists because an old road no longer exists, and the trees, grass and animals have reclaimed it. The mysterious quality of the poem is helped by the vivid descriptions of the wildlife, the silence and the fact that no explanation is given.

However, one clue lies in the lines about the animals which live there, whichare secret to everyone except one person - the keeper! Had you thought about the possibility that this person may have been a gamekeeper? These workers patrolled the estates of rich landowners after common land was taken away from peasant use by fencing in, and due to economic circumstances times were often hard and hungry for the poor. Many would turn to a quick rabbit for the pot, salmon for the grill or even worse, pheasant for the oven! These game foods had to be protected from thieves ('poachers') who would lift them in the dead of night, by gamekeepers. These workers would march around with a gun, hauling out any poachers they found. One way of closing off their access was to fence in the land and any public footpaths or roads that crossed it.

This may seem uncharitable to us today, but faith in God was being shaken at this time and scientists were finding out new things shaking the foundations of the church, which was seen by some to be 'shutting the road to enlightenment.' So there may also be a message about that concealed within the poem.

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